\'Main focus on evacuating Indian students from Sumy\'

Prime Minister Modi calls high-level meet to discuss India\'s evacuation efforts

New Delhi: While a majority of Indians have left the eastern Ukrainian city Kharkiv, around 700 Indian students still remain stranded in Sumy, which has now become the main challenge for the Indian Government. India on Saturday said its main focus now is on the evacuation of these 700 Indian students from Sumy which has been witnessing bombings and airstrikes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi called another high-level meeting on Saturday to discuss India's evacuation efforts.

Several of these students in Sumy threatened on Saturday morning to march several kilometres to Mariupol in southern Ukraine to escape the fierce fighting but were later convinced by Indian diplomats to remain where they are and avoid taking unnecessary risks.

As evacuation from the shelling-battered city remains a challenge for Indian authorities, the students said they could no longer cope with the nail-biting cold, depleting food supplies and having to melt snow to get drinking water. The students have released several desperate videos on social media, saying they have decided to undertake the potentially fatal journey to the Russian border, some 50km from where they are, sending shockwaves in New Delhi. Students hoped they would be picked up by Indian authorities from the Russians border.

"We are afraid. We have awaited a lot and we cannot wait anymore. We are risking our life. We are moving towards the border. If anything happens to us, all the responsibility will be on the government and Indian embassy," a student, surrounded by a large number of his peers holding Indian flags, says in one of the videos. In another video, students are seen filling up buckets with ice as they ran out of drinking water.

New Delhi said the Indian students stuck in Sumy could not be evacuated due to fierce shelling in the vicinity of their locations. India is trying its best to persuade both Russia and Ukraine to implement a local ceasefire so that a humanitarian corridor can be provided for the safe evacuation of the Indian students. Reaching out to the desperate Indian students, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Spokesperson Mr Arindam Bagchi said, "We know you are in a tough situation. We feel your pain." He said the Indiana authorities are talking to the students. “They have gone back to their shelters ... I salute them," he said, adding that the government is doing its best to evacuate these students as soon as possible.

Indian ambassador to Ukraine, Mr Partha Satpathy said no stone will be left unturned for the safe evacuation of Indians from Sumy as he hailed the unparalleled strength and fortitude displayed by the young citizens in dealing with the adversities. "The last two weeks have been extremely harrowing and challenging for all of us. Hardly anyone would have ever witnessed such pain and disruption in our lives. Nonetheless, I am proud of the maturity and fortitude displayed by our Indian nationals, especially young Indian students, in continuing to stay brave during these difficult times. Our embassy will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to ensure the safe evacuation of Indian students. I know that our students have been through a lot and have shown unparalleled strength and determination during these times. I urge you for some more patience and forbearance so that we can ensure your safety and security," Mr Satpathy said.

After the assurances, the students have halted their journey for now."We had already started moving after we gave up hope on the government coming to our rescue. But now with the new advisory, we are confused whether we should take the risk at all. I am so scared," said Md Nizamuddin Aman (21), a first-year MBBS student at Sumy State University.

While the eastern border with Russia is much closer from Sumy, it is being seen as more difficult to extricate the students from there due to the two battle frontlines manned by the Russians and Ukranians. The MEA spokesperson said the railway lines from Sumy have been damaged, hence, evacuation from there would have to be by road in buses or trucks.

New Delhi was encouraged by other positive developments wherein almost all Indian students who were stuck in Kharkiv reached the nearby town of Pisochyn from where they are being evacuated in buses to western Ukraine from where they can cross the border for onward evacuation to India. The Indian Embassy in Ukraine tweeted late on Saturday evening, "Pisochyn has been evacuated of all Indian citizens. Mission will continue to remain in touch with them through their journey. Their safety has always been our priority. "

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